When we were living in Virginia, our little town had two pedestrian deaths within a couple years of each other. You can talk statistics and safety and risk and stuff until you're blue in the face, but when something like that happens in your community, it tends to make you pause--if just for a moment--and think a few things through.
Now, perspective is needed here. On the one hand it's easy to freak out and buy some bubble wrap, and cry "Infrastructure!" and "Stay indoors!" But the truth of the matter is that you can take every single precaution known to man, and even give up the fullness of life, and in the end, accidents and bad things still happen sometimes. Humanity, imperfect world, blah blah blah.
On the other hand, throwing caution to the wind and being careless is really just unwise, you know? "I do what I want, it's others' job to look out for me." No, dummy. While the pedestrian having the right of way is technically true, it's a high price to pay for being right. Because physics, and all.
So as with most things in life, I look for balance. I'm cheap, so I don't like to spend a lot on fancy stuff unnecessarily, but the reality of two people dying made me take safety a little more seriously with my running. So here's what I do to stay safe out there in the asphalt jungle (and hopefully give my mom a little peace of mind)--
Assume drivers don't see me--I always feel like I'm pretty aware of runners and bikers when I'm out driving, but it has crossed my mind that a) I'm biased because I am a runner, so I tend to notice people who are doing the same kinds of things I enjoy, and/or b) I only think I'm more aware than average, and I'm actually not-seeing the same amount of people as everyone else.
This is sort of along the lines of defensive driving, which one could get into a whole discussion about if one really wanted to, but my take is that it comes down to a fine line. You have to be alert, because duh, physics. You can follow all the laws perfectly, but that doesn't account for everyone else's potential for distraction and overall boneheadedness. And being right doesn't make you tougher than a moving car. (but wouldn't that be cool if it did?)
On the other hand, if you are too paranoid you get twitchy, which in my opinion can be just as dangerous. If you're hopping all around like a scared bunny, you are the unknown, and people won't know what to do to get around you safely. Don't hop around like a scared bunny.
So then what is my happy medium? Making eye contact with drivers is good, but I don't do it well. Instead, I do a lot of waving. I wave so much I look like a happy-go-lucky fool, but really I'm just acknowledging people. "Hey, I see you, thanks for seeing me. We're such good road sharers." I can tell a good amount by their response, or lack thereof, and make adjustments accordingly.
When I'm crossing a street, drivers will very often wave me across, but if they don't, or if I'm otherwise unsure, I'll stop and wait to cross. This might seem obvious, but we runners get a little crazy on our endorphins sometimes, and forget things like traffic rules. I'm nowhere near any record-breaking paces or anything so I really do have the few extra seconds to spare. If I'm feeling antsy I'll jog in place, but sometimes I'll welcome the little break and just stand there. I'm on my way again soon enough.
RoadID--This is sort of like a MedicAlert bracelet, except that I don't have any medical conditions to speak of. BUT if I were to become incapacitated while out on a run, my RoadID has my basic info (name, blood type, allergies etc), plus a couple phone numbers for emergency services to reach my family. For an annual membership fee, you can also choose the interactive version, where you fill out a more thorough profile and emergency workers call an 800-number to get your info. They have a bunch of different colors and material choices, and since I really like bracelets anyway, it works out well.
No headphones/earbuds--This can be a tough one. I know a lot of people who are seriously helped by music in their workout. Like, if they didn't have music they might not even do the workout. But there is a cost, and that cost is decreased alertness and audibility (it's a word; I looked it up) of your environment. And earbuds were a factor in at least one of the pedestrian cases in my town. I've heard it suggested that if you must have music, to do one earbud in and one out, so you get the benefits of music, but retain most of your alertness of the things around you.
As for me, I don't take them at all. Admittedly, this is less about safety and more about my own personal bents. First, I prefer schlepping around as little as possible. I don't even bring my phone unless I'm tracking my miles. One of the things I love about running is the general lack of necessary gear to accomplish it. Second, I get sweaty, and there's a bit of an ew-factor for me when I think about sweaty headphones. Finally, my personality is such that running is a time bring peace to the noises of my life. I breathe and think and listen, and it really does add an extra calm to the rest of my life that wouldn't be there otherwise, and while I love music, adding it to my run would undo at least some of my hard-earned calm. I've been asked if I get bored, but there are enough thoughts, prayers, world solutions, and speeches in my head to last me miles and miles. And miles and miles.
Bright colors--I didn't use to pay attention to what colors I was wearing, but in the past several years I've started to be a little more purposeful about it. I decided I really prefer white cotton graphic tees, so I try to keep it bright with various gaudy shorts, shoes, socks, and the like. And right now is a great time for bright colors, because they are in style. Not sure what I'll do when fashion swings back toward earth tones, because boy do I love my neon pink shoes.
In the dark:
I didn't always run in the dark, but it is becoming more of a reality for me for several reasons. I have a pair of fully-reflective shoes, and several of my running garments have reflective bits on them. But still, while I know reflective fabric is better than non-reflective fabric when it comes to visibility, I felt I needed to be a little more proactive about staying visible, so I started inviting batteries to the party--
LED armband. I felt self-conscious about getting blinky-lights, but I had to suck it up a little because this is one situation where I WANT people to see me. There are a ton of options for lights, so you need to do a little looking and see what you like. I like this armband because it is lightweight and uses the same button batteries we keep around the house for other things, and because it has three settings so I can control the amount of blinking. I feel a little like an unbalanced Christmas tree, but most drivers don't want to run into a Christmas tree, balanced or not, so I think in the end this meets all my goals.
Headlamp. Oh boy. The star on top of the unbalanced Christmas tree. This one makes me feel like a MAJOR dork. So many things don't phase me, but I needed a good pep talk about getting a headlamp. Spelunkers wear headlamps. Surgeons wear headlamps. I don't know what I was afraid of. I mean, I'm unabashed about my overall nerdiness, so I don't know why it bothered me so much, but there you have it. After I had a couple of early morning near-encounters with curbs in our minimally-lit VA neighborhood, I decided it was better to be an illuminated dork than an injured one, and ordered the lamp. Mine is a basic model, but it has kept me from kissing the curbs. Which is good.
If you are interested in reading more, Erin has a whole running blog here. She is from my old neighborhood in VA and has a bajillionty tips, tricks, and encouragements to share.
In short, safety is important. Don't freak out, but don't be dumb, either. I like Mike Rowe's philosophy of "Safety Third," which boils down to the fact that staying safe is your responsibility, so take it seriously. And thankfully, with all the available gear out there, it can be kind of fun too...